Friday, February 19, 2010

The greenest city in the U.S.?

Justmeans co-founder Kevin Long recently asked me what I thought was the greenest city in the U.S. and without too much hesitation, I responded with Portland, OR.

I’ll admit, I’m biased; I can’t help it; I heart Portland.

Everyone hearts Portland, or they should. It’s a great place – beautiful, clean, not too expensive, good food, great beer, free public transportation. What’s not to like? Okay, I know, somewhere out there I’m sure there is a contingent of Portland haters -- people who probably think the city is too yuppie or too upper-middle-class-white or too rainy. [First of all, let me just say that I live in Boston and by this time of the year, February, I’d take rain over frigid arctic temps any day. Second, you can complain about the yuppiness of a place like Portland all you want, but let’s face it, deep down you kind of like it.]

Anyway, Portland was my knee-jerk reaction, but then I got to thinking…why is it that I think Portland is the greenest city in the country? Is it really because of the various sustainable development initiatives put forth by the city? Or, is mostly because Portland is, simply, a nice place to live? Is a nice city with a high quality of life a sustainable city?

After a little googling, I found some “objective” support for my case. I am definitely not the first to attest to Portland’s greenness – the city’s progressive planning and land use, urban innovation, air and water quality, and impressive number of green buildings make it an easy choice.

But there’s more to it than this. When I think about why Portland feels like a green city, it’s not these measurable qualities that come to mind, but instead, something much more difficult to articulate…something about the culture of the city and the priorities of the people who live there.

It’s not just that you can walk out your door and sample locally-brewed beer at any one of the many microbreweries, or go for a trail run in the city’s 5,000-acre city park, or ride your bike everywhere…it’s that the people you meet in Portland really care about these “green” urban features and want to talk to you about them. Portland’s “greenness” is embedded into the culture of the city; people move there because of it and there’s a palpable energy that comes from this collective environmental enthusiasm.

People heart Portland. They care about the city they live in and because they care, they work to improve it, even though it’s pretty darn cool already. Maybe that’s not the way we typically think about “greenness” but it sure makes Portland a nice place for the environmentally-minded to call home.

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